Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Divrei Torah

A Tale of Two Haftarot

The practice of reciting haftarot on Shabbat and Chag is often a bit embarrassing. There’s probably no communal custom as denigrated as the haftarah. A major competition exists between haftorot and sermons for which cause more people to depart shul. I remember being a

How the Tree of Knowledge Brings Death


Last time, we saw

From Freewill to Prophecy to Eternal Life

We interrupted our usual studies to look at Chanukah in Akedat Yitzchak. We were in the middle of the sixth sha’ar, which suggests that our best strategy would be a brief recap of where the sixth sha’ar was going. Rabbi Arama was looking into the nature of the human soul, which sets people apart from

High Noon


It’s a cliché in old western movies that the climax of the film will be a showdown between the good guy and the

Sibling Rivalry: Vayeshev 5779 

Growing up, my sister and I fought a lot. It didn’t matter who was right or wrong or even if there was a right and wrong. We just fought because that’s what cats and dogs do, or siblings, as the case may be. Today, we’re mature adults and we never fight anymore. We agree on all the important issues in life. We may disagree on the

Taking on the Human Soul

Ends and Effort

R. Arama intends the sixth sha’ar to discuss the nature of the human soul. He starts with the connection between understanding the value of an act and the effort we put into it. Anywhere we cannot see the purpose of an act—a failing to which we are all prone, he says,

Mirror Image: Vayetze 5779

The non-Torah world has three areas which I can’t resist. The first is Boston-based-sports franchisesand, for me, the Pats are still the Boston Patriots. The other two are science fiction and really good acting. The latter two items converged in a recently aired TV series, called “Counterpart.” It describes how this world separated

Shabbat’s Partner: The Jewish People

Bereshit Rabbah 11 quotes Rabbi Shimon barYochai, where he portrays Shabbat as complaining to Hashem over her lack of a partner; Hashem then promises her the Jewish people will be her partner. At Sinai, Hashem reminds the Jews of this commitment, when Hashem says, “Zachor et yom haShabbat lekadesho, remember Shabbat to declare it

Person of Prayer

Chayei Sara 5779

It takes a tough person to daven a tender Mincha. Here’s the problem: Mincha falls out, for much of the year, during the work day. In Jerusalem, the final time for Mincha gets as early as 4:39 p.m., and in New York as early as 4:28 p.m,, clearly within business hours.

What Avraham Taught the World

R. Arama starts his she’arim with a brief summary of what he intends to tell us. Here, he plans to make a point about Shabbat and its role in teaching us important truths of the world, but makes a digression I found too enlightening to pass up.

The Value of the First Six Days of

Who Was Avraham?

Lech Lecha 5779

Most of you know the story of Avraham breaking the statues in his father’s idol emporium. Can’t you just imagine the sign out front of the shop: Terach & Son, Idols for all Occasions. There’s so much about that story we don’t know. How old was Avraham? What errand did Terach

Starting the 10 Steps of Creation

R. Arama is ready to read the first chapter of Bereishit with us (which, conveniently, we just read in shul, so we hopefully have these passages more in mind than we might usually), to find the “10 sayings” a Mishnah in Avot said Hashem used to create the world. As you recall, he has decided the first of those sayings was yehi or, let

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